Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 November 2009
Prisons are major social institutions, key components in any modern system of criminal justice, and they are expected to be agencies of justice on behalf of society. Various understandings of criminal justice and of social justice are expressed in policies and practices of imprisonment. Yet at times when there is much uncertainty and confusion about what justice is, people become unclear what prisons are for, what they are intended to achieve and how they should operate. What happens in prisons shows remarkably clearly the problems that arise when there is pervasive uncertainty about what justice is, and issues of justice are raised in particularly sharp form for all those involved in imprisonment and the operations of the criminal justice system.
UNCERTAINTIES IN PENAL POLICY
In 1985 I was involved in a day conference on the theme ‘Law and Order – Prospects for the Future’. Four powerful and perplexing themes emerged from that conference, which led some of us to feel that we must see if there were Christian resources which might illumine the confusing situation and suggest perhaps, if not solutions, at least ways forward towards a less brutal and ineffective, and a more just, penal system.
(a) The first theme emerged from the elegant and intelligent presentation by the minister responsible for Scottish prisons. He gave the clear impression that there was in fact a coherent rationale or theory undergirding the Scottish prison system.